Fears the BC Ferries vessel Quinitsa won’t be replaced on the Vesuvius-Crofton route anytime soon were confirmed last Tuesday evening during a lively ferry advisory committee meeting at the Harbour House Hotel, but executives attending the session agreed to explore suggestions to ease the pain of increased wait times and terminal traffic.
The plan to retire the Howe Sound Queen and put the smaller Quinitsa on the route has been a topic of debate for the Salt Spring Ferry Advisory Committee ever since BC Ferries first broached the topic in public in November 2016. The issue of how that change has impacted customers and the Vesuvius neighbourhood for the worse ended up taking up the full two and a half hours allotted for the July 9 meeting, after the FAC agreed to move the item to the top of the agenda.
Multiple residents shared their frustration and gave constructive criticism on how to improve things, but for now, the ferry company has not offered replacing the ship as a solution.
BC Ferries executives said traffic had increased at unpredicted rates since the plan was first launched, but repeated the boat will be in place until the Quinsam becomes available in two or three years.
“Every island has been growing lately, okay?” said Mark Wilson, BC Ferries vice-president of strategy and community engagement.
“You do have to realize, you are probably not unique here,” he added later in the meeting, noting the company is hearing many similar themes and challenges from other Gulf Islands communities.
Many people have wondered why the Bowen Queen was not assigned to the route. Peter Simpson, director of fleet operational strategy, explained the ship was sent to the Port McNeill-Alert Bay-Sointula route for the summer because those communities are served by just one ferry and there is much more time between sailings. As well, the Bowen’s configuration does not work well for commercial or over-height vehicles, which make up a significant portion of the Route-6 traffic.
“If we were just taking cars on Saturday morning, then the Bowen can carry more cars than the Quinitsa can carry,” said marine superintendent Capt. Lewis MacKay. “But if we’re taking a combination of cars and commercial vehicles, the Quinitsa can arguably carry more than the Bowen Queen. So it depends on the mix of the traffic and customers.”
Executives also quashed hopes of adding another sailing to the regular schedule, or of moving to “shuttling” instead of a set schedule, because the turnaround time is already tight between sailings, and to add another sailing would mean another staffing shift.
MacKay noted the Vesuvius ferry is now running largely on-time after years of customers complaints about inability to keep to schedule. He also stressed that in his experience, customers should have no problem getting on their preferred sailing as long as they arrive one hour prior. (Speaking from their experience, many people in the room disagreed with that, and observed it won’t work if everyone does it because of the ship’s smaller capacity.)
Many residents spoke to the need to have flaggers at the Vesuvius and Fulford terminals at all times to help direct traffic. Drivers who are dropping people off at the terminals are often forced to travel down the opposing lane to the harbour when the correct lane is blocked by parked cars waiting to board. Vesuvius residents such as Gaye Gardiner said one accident has already occurred there this year due to the situation.
BC Ferries terminal operations superintendent Monique Turgeon said she had added some staff to the previous unmanned Vesuvius terminal already, and they have recently received the training that allows them to enter the public roadway. She promised to look into increasing staffing time.
At the end of the session Wilson noted the meeting was not intended to be an open house, but said he was open to coming back for more public events focused on specific issues if need be.
Discussion of assured loading for school buses and medical appointments was scheduled, but not did not end up being discussed, along with any other agenda items.
For more on this story, see the July 17, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.